Innovation Process Model: Friend Or Foe?

20 November 2017 | Maryana Kartashevska | About a 4 minute read
Tags: ANDtech, consultant, Digital, foe, friend, Innovation, model, process, prof d, professionalising Digital, tech

The contentious question is whether something as creative as innovation can be standardised, packaged as a process and replicated continuously at a corporate level. Critics would argue that innovation should not be confined to an out-of-the-box solution because any attempt to define a process model forces constraints and inhibits creativity.


Yet, the history of innovation process models is a rich one and spans decades. I explore how innovation structures have developed over time and consider the prevailing techniques used now. It’s argued that innovation should be allowed to flourish organically but also that strategic inventions require the support of a defined process model to succeed.


The evolution of innovation process models

Innovation process models have existed since the 1960’s. The early models were largely driven by small research and development teams, led by scientists working behind closed doors. Innovation was an exclusive, linear process. As a result, a lot of discoveries either lacked practical application or didn’t receive the publicity needed for buy-in and were often shelved.


A famous example of this is the Post-It Note glue, developed by Dr Spencer Silver, a scientist at 3M in the mid-60’s. Silver stumbled across the glue formulation by mistake whilst trying to create a super strong adhesive. Recognising the value of his discovery, Silver then spent five years unsuccessfully trying to pitch the idea internally. It was not until a colleague initiated a bootlegging operation that the corporate finally took heed of the discovery, which ended up making 3M hundreds of millions.


By the mid-70’s there was a growing recognition that innovation should not be an in-silo process. Persistent market pressures of booms and busts, and the resulting resource scarcity forced corporations to focus more on the needs of the consumer. Innovation remained a linear process though now driven externally by the market – the forces of demand and supply rather than exclusively by internal R&D.


Technological developments of the mid-80’s then set in motion a second wave of innovation models; no-longer linear but based on interactive and iterative processes. Technology enabled easier communication and engagement across teams and before long, innovation became a business-wide endeavour. The concepts of market need and knowledge continued to gain prominence, resulting in a number of systemic process models such as the Chain-Linked Model of Klein and Rosenberg.


By the mid-90’s market need was no-longer the primary driver of innovation. The concepts of revolutionary or disruptive innovation began to emerge – all of a sudden people were innovating regardless of an obvious market need. Further technological advancements and relative stability in key markets meant that a bigger proportion of innovation was now purely inventive. Other innovation drivers began to take over including quality, technological integration and speed of development.  


Current approach to innovation process models

The current model of innovation is something Chesbrough calls open innovation. It is based on collaboration and cooperation not only across internal departments within a corporation but also externally, with the world around it. Anyone is free to contribute: globalisation and modern technology have enabled us to recognise and realise external knowledge and paths to markets.


So if innovation is open and accessible, do we really need a model to govern the process? Would invention not be stifled by procedural propriety? It is argued not because to be most effective, innovation at a corporate level must be strategic. It should fulfil a business need, be in line with the overall business objectives and generate value whether internally, externally or preferably both. Ideation on its own isn’t enough to realise this value, which is where a good process model could help.


An effective innovation process model aligns to business strategy, solves a problem, integrates with the operating model, reduces product development costs and time to market, and maximises value creation. It is also relevant to the type of innovation being developed, whether incremental, evolutionary or revolutionary. Importantly, it considers the softer elements of business – the people, culture and business environment – to create a positive change. If done well, an innovation process model is a friend that supports business growth and development.


For further reading on the subject see:

  • Rothwell R (1994). Towards the fifth-generation innovation process. International Marketing Review. 11(7): 7-31
  • Chesbrough, HW (2003). Open Innovation: The new imperative for creating and profiting from technology. Boston: Harvard Business School Press
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